BSR Web Staff: The Top 10 Albums of 2016

Written by on December 29, 2016

Recently the Black Squirrel Radio web staff collaborated to create the official BSR Top 10 Albums of 2016. Though this has been a pretty complicated year it has been a pretty impressive one in terms of music. The competition was tough but our final 10 contains a mix of some new voices and beloved legends. If you are curious how we came to decide the top albums of the year then listen to our deliberations in the first ever BSR Web Staff podcast.


‘Blonde’ – Frank Ocean

Blonde marks the return of the reclusive perfectionist Frank Ocean. After a four year hiatus of no music, Ocean delivers an album that saw him experiment with various influences from bossa nova, The Beatles, Todd Rundgren, even Death Grips – the list goes on. His vocals are the star of the album, as every emotion he conveys is felt with every note. His lyrics are poetic: “If you could die and come back to life/Up for air from the swimming pool/You’d kneel down to the dry land/Kiss the Earth that birthed you/Gave you tools just to stay alive/And make it out when the sun is ruined” – “Pink + White”. The production is pristine and moves in waves, almost atmospheric. It envelopes the nostalgia conveyed in this album; reflections of old loves, time spent and the memories they’ve had on Ocean – for better or worse. If you need an album to capture those feelings of nostalgia through powerful relation, Ocean’s Blonde will be your sounding. [Tyler Thompson]


‘Peach’ – Culture Abuse

“Let there be peace on earth, let love reign supreme.”
Growing from the warm loam of the Golden State, Peach simultaneously cruises down SR 1, skates in Cleveland and slams 40s in Brooklyn. Kelling and crew bring a lush, juicy approach to the oft-overplayed apathy we punks love so dearly. It’s not all sunny and poppy fun though, as Kelling’s formerly morose but always unique vocals hum out of a distorted little transistor radio speaker, essentially saying, “It’s fine.” 2016 has been quite a dreadful year for so many, and Culture Abuse address police shootings, political apathy, depression and a general desire to shrug in spite of all the good and bad. Peach means that in spite of a Trump presidency, in spite of neo-nazis (“alt-right”) trying to shut down DIY art and creative spaces, in spite of all the traumatic and demeaning issues that we face as creative individuals, we will brush it off and keep fighting back like we always have had to do – that’s the essence of punk, the essence of music, the essence of art. “We can’t let them win,” Kelling hollars on “Chinatown”. I’ll be damned if we can’t do so while enjoying it. [Evan Harms]


‘We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service ‘ – A Tribe Called Quest

A Tribe Called Quest make a triumphant and poignant return with their first album in over fifteen years. We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service is well worth the wait. The group’s infinitely cool sound still feels highly fresh and relevant; We Got It from Here touches on ripe social commentary while bringing back plenty of their 90s vibes. This timely album not only recaptures the creative and original hip-hop sound of a beloved group, but also serves as a fitting tribute to Tribe member, Phife Dawg, who passed away earlier this year, prior to the album’s release. Whether this is a final farewell or the start of a new chapter, I trust that Tribe has it from here, and we should definitely thank them for their service. [Brooke Forrest]


‘Lemonade’ – Beyoncé

2016 proved to be the year of Beyoncé. After releasing the lead hit single, “Formation”, and causing controversy at the Superbowl for her performance, Beyoncé released her sixth studio album, Lemonade, and it was everything. The critics loved it, the general public loved it and everyone was searching for Becky with the good hair. No only was it controversial, excellent stand out tracks like “Hold Up” and “Sorry” garnered attention immediately and “Don’t Hurt Yourself” has earned her a Grammy nom for Best Rock Performance. It’s safe to say Lemonade has earned it’s place on the list. [Akii Butler]


‘A Seat at the Table’ – Solange

Beyoncé isn’t the only Knowles’ sibling on the list. This year Solange proved yet again that she is more than just Beyoncé’s sister. Her third studio album A Seat at the Table was a hit with the critics and the fans. With songs like “Mad” that took on the “angry black woman” stereotype and “Cranes in the Sky” which in my opinion describes depression perfectly, Solange crafted one of the most versatile, soulful albums this year. It’s safe to say that she has become a force of her own in this industry, thanks to this album. [Akii Butler]


‘Teens Of Denial’ – Car Seat Headrest

Car Seat Headrest’s newest album clocks in at 70 minutes and is worth every second it takes to experience it in full. Singer and songwriter Will Toledo builds each song up, adding more and more layers of music and vocals as each song goes on. Every song on the album is in contention for being the best of the lot, and only get better with each listen. The songs are clever, well written and structured and are layered beautifully, culminating in an impressively cohesive album. [Erik Svensson]


‘My Woman’ – Angel Olsen

From the synthpop of “Intern” to the melancholy piano ballad that is the closing track on Olsen’s 2016 album, Olsen spends the whole 47 minutes evolving and shifting styles. The only constant on this album is Olsen’s voice, and it is used to great effect. My Woman is an odyssey across genres, showcasing Olsen’s considerable songwriting talent within the ten songs, all noticeably unique and beautiful with each listen. [Erik Svensson]


‘22, A Million’ – Bon Iver

Bon Iver’s 22, A Million sounds exactly how its album artwork looks- confusing, loaded with symbolism, but still inviting. From the opening bars of “22 (OVER S∞∞N),” the listener is transported into the beautiful, distorted, always-wandering mind of bandleader Justin Vernon. Much of the folk instrumentation of earlier Bon Iver albums is gone, replaced by ambient electronics, vocal samples, and Vernon’s modulated voice. As the album progresses, it becomes clear that Vernon is describing some sort of spiritual journey, one that ends with no definite conclusions. But the lack of conclusiveness is no letdown; in fact, it is the opposite. Vernon’s vulnerability and willingness to experiment combine to make 22, A Million one of the year’s most fulfilling albums. [Dylan Reynolds]


‘Atrocity Exhibition’ – Danny Brown

An explosive experiment in strung-out intensity, Atrocity Exhibition pits Danny Brown’s idiosyncratic oddball Atlanta hip-hop against brooding, heavy post-punk-inspired instrumentals. From the Joy Division-baiting title to Brown’s aggressive reinterpretation of Ian Curtis’ famous refrain, “this is the way, step inside,” the unique sonics of Atrocity Exhibition are as indebted to 1970s no-wave as they are to the cutting edge of modern trap. Brown’s off-the-wall flow writhes dissonantly against producer Paul White’s punk-accented churn. The smoothly distorted bass of “Rolling Stone” sounds equally at home behind Pinot Noir’s silken hook as it would blaring out of a grimy Manchester rock club thirty years ago. The Gothic blast of “Ain’t it Funny”’s system-blowing intro crosses Death Grips with Bauhaus. Simply put, Danny Brown has taken two genres with no apparent overlaps and made something greater than the sum of its parts. Nothing else sounds like Atrocity Exhibition, but then, nothing else is ready to. [Conor Battles]


‘Black Star’ – David Bowie

To be wholly honest, I didn’t expect to like this album nearly to the extent that I have come to. Bowie has created a soulful farewell, a grand mix of sounds and meaning that’s difficult to find while still carrying such genuinely good tunes. It’s jazzy when it wants to be, throws in a left hook with hip-hop beats that meshes into something darkly endearing, and entirely Bowie’s own. Of all the tracks, I have to say the one that affect me the most was “Lazarus”. This song is one of the most soulful goodbyes I have ever heard in my life. It sums up what this album is as a non-material entity; it’s the powerful and beautiful Black Star’s dying supernova. It’s human. [Miles Purdy]


Honorable Mention: Skeleton Tree – Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

Enjoy this playlist of key songs from each album of the year:

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